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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
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The Blind Assassin (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Margaret Atwood

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14,829353288 (3.93)1028
A science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in a dingy backstreet room. Set in a multi-layered story of the death of a woman's sister and husband in the 1940's, with a novel-within-a novel as a background.
Member:CozyRaptor
Title:The Blind Assassin
Authors:Margaret Atwood
Info:Virago Press Ltd, Paperback, 637 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:to-read

Work details

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)

  1. 182
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (browner56)
    browner56: Two superbly crafted explorations of the cathartic power that comes from the act of writing.
  2. 50
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    A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (sturlington)
    sturlington: Writers and books within books.
  6. 31
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    djmccord73: family history, secrets
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    thea-block: Pictures of the whole a woman's life, exploring how early decisions effect the rest of their lives.
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  10. 10
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  11. 10
    Stella Descending by Linn Ullmann (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Laura Chase in The Blind Assassin falls to her death from a bridge over a ravine, just as Stella falls to hers from a roof. The Blind Assassin is concerned with finding out why Laura fell, with newspaper reports given, excerpts from a novel quoted, and passages of narration from Laura's sister -- all out of chronological sequence; just as the cause of Stella's fall is sought through Ullmann's novel by a variety of narrators, with excerpts from a video, all simililarly out of chronological order. Both Stella and Laura act as nurses, and fall prey to unprincipled men. Both novels include a pair of sisters whose mother dies when they are young, leaving the elder girl to take care of the younger; children with absent or unknown fathers; and someone very old, near to their own death, who loved Laura/Stella. Laura's sister fancies, `there was no floor to my room: I was suspended in the air, about to plummet. My fall would be endless -- endlessly down'. Stella's daughter tells her sister, `Mama fell off a roof, Mama's falling still. She falls and falls and never hits the ground'.… (more)
  12. 00
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    electronicmemory: Two books that are slow, close character studies of our protagonists. They both have lovely prose, vivid imagery and nuance.
  13. 78
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  14. 01
    Autumn Laing by Alex Miller (jll1976)
    jll1976: Similar themes and style. Also a 'death bed confessional'.
  15. 23
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    PrincessPaulina: Main characters are seniors, reexamining their biographies at the end of their lives.
  16. 34
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    electronicmemory: Historical settings come alive in these novels about the complexities of life among close-knit high society social circles.
  17. 02
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    PghDragonMan: Deception is layered on deception until even the truth looks false.
Canada (9)
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» See also 1028 mentions

English (348)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (354)
Showing 1-5 of 348 (next | show all)
A sprawling, wonderful novel....intrigue, romance, historical... and, in the end, a profound look at love in its time and place. Beautifully written to boot, Atwood does it again! ( )
  mjspear | Jun 14, 2021 |
So fussy and worked-over that even in its meticulously sculpted final form there seems to be something missing. A trace of Laura's real character, or Iris's, all her recollections coming as they do from the perspective of a woman half a century removed from her young life and very close to death. I eventually grew frustrated with Atwood's tells that she was working a bit too hard to make the pull off her ambitious formal gambit - such as her tendency to tie off each chapter, or even page break, with an aphorism. I like this book very much in theory but the experience of reading it is less than engaging. Atwood even seems to understand that she lacks a flair for melodrama, placing a major nod to the climactic plot twist about halfway through. I haven't read anything else by her but knowing that she writes poetry, I would guess that is more worth seeking out than her novels. It's filled with beautiful turns of phrase, anyway. ( )
  brendanowicz | May 9, 2021 |
A technical exercise by Atwood. Similarly to its sibling Alias Grace, it's a compendium of Canadian history, this time in the World War era, so be warned before you commit that it gets dense. Read it on vacation! Atwood throws in as many styles as she can, and gets away with it each time. But my favorite are still the drastic one-liners that she sneaks into her narration, which shine even in the deepest data. ( )
  EugenioNegro | Mar 17, 2021 |
A strong opening, a weak finish. Funnily enough, once I figured out the twists in the story, I enjoyed them less, like I was disappointed my initial reactions were correct. But it is well written, in terms of the crafting of language and setting up scenes. ( )
  sarahlh | Mar 6, 2021 |
Odi et amo – I hate and I love. Catullus’s famous paradox was not meant to describe books, but it neatly sums up my reaction to Margaret Atwood’s pluri-prizewinning novel “The Blind Assassin”.

The 20th century is coming to an end and Iris Chase, now in her eighties, knows that her days are numbered too. She decides to write her memoirs for the benefit of her estranged granddaughter Sabrina. Her tale starts chillingly: Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. Having given us a glimpse of her tale’s dark ending, Iris takes us back to the Chase siblings’ protected childhood in the (fictional) Southern Ontario town of Port Ticonderoga, where their father is a respected factory owner. The business goes through a hard time and is bought out by the Griffen family, whose upcoming scion Richard Griffen eventually marries Iris. It is an unhappy match which holds within it the seeds of tragedy.

Iris’s recollections form the main narrative strand of the novel and, set as they are in the unsettled decades between the two World Wars, they give the book the feel of a historical novel or a family saga, rendered more authentic through references to actual events. This being Atwood however, the structure of the novel soon becomes increasingly complex. We learn that Laura Chase has become a literary sensation thanks to her posthumously published roman-a-clef “The Blind Assassin”, extracts of which are interspered with Iris’s story. Laura’s novel is apparently autobiographical, chronicling her love affair with one Alex Thomas, a Communist-leaning writer of pulp fiction. As if this novel-within-a-novel were not enough, Alex spices up the lovers’ encounters with storytelling, which spawns a third narrative strand – a quasi-scifi tale about the exploits of a “blind assassin” in the fantastical Planet Zycron. The Baboushka-dolls structure underlines this (meta-)novel’s obsession with the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, truth and deceit.

Atwood’s novel has been described as a postmodernist masterpiece and I have little hesitation in agreeing with this appraisal. Its potentially convoluted structure is deftly handled, leading to an effective climax in the final chapters. The dialogue and narrative voice are perfectly pitched and hardly a page goes by without the reader chancing upon an arresting image, observation or turn-of-phrase. Yet, I often found myself viscerally hating the novel and it took me a real effort to finish it. Why?

I think that it’s mostly down to the novel’s or, to be exact, Iris’s worldview. Her bitterness poisons all the characters, who invariably come across as scheming, manipulative and cruel or, at best, short-sighted and naive. Even Laura, who has little time for material trappings and is one of the more “spiritual” figures in the book, has the nasty habit of entering into “pacts” with God. Which, it must be said, He consistently breaks.

Indeed, the novel’s world is one in which everything is subject to negotiation and everything is up for sale. This applies particularly to the women who, like the bosomy figures in Alex Thomas’s pulp stories, are merely chattel in a male-dominated society.

Yes, I know – Atwood is making a very valid point here. And, yes, I do appreciate that sometimes an argument needs to be strongly (and unsubtly?) presented for it to strike home. And I know as well that one should not mistake a character’s point of view with that of the novel and still less with that of the author.

But the fact remains that I found the novel’s bleakness suffocating, its dark humour and glinting brilliance merely rubbing salt into this reader’s wounds. At the risk of sounding like an Eastenders fan who rants at the actor playing the baddie, I’ll give a miserly two stars to this dazzling novel which I hated ... and loved.
( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 348 (next | show all)
Margaret Atwood poses a provocative question in her new novel, "The Blind Assassin." How much are the bad turns of one's life determined by things beyond our control, like sex and class, and how much by personal responsibility? Unlike most folks who raise this question so that they can wag their finger -- she's made her bed, and so on -- Atwood's foray into this moral terrain is complex and surprising. Far from preaching to the converted, Atwood's cunning tale assumes a like-minded reader only so that she can argue, quite persuasively, from the other side.
added by stephmo | editSalon.com, Karen Houppert (Dec 12, 2000)
 
In her tenth novel, Margaret Atwood again demonstrates that she has mastered the art of creating dense, complex fictions from carefully layered narratives, making use of an array of literary devices - flashbacks, multiple time schemes, ambiguous, indeterminate plots - and that she can hook her readers by virtue of her exceptional story-telling skills. The Blind Assassin is not a book that can easily be put to one side, in spite of its length and the fact that its twists and turns occasionally try the patience; yet it falls short of making the emotional impact that its suggestive and slippery plot at times promises.
added by stephmo | editThe Guardian, Alex Clark (Sep 30, 2000)
 
Ms. Atwood's absorbing new novel, ''The Blind Assassin,'' features a story within a story within a story -- a science-fiction yarn within a hard-boiled tale of adultery within a larger narrative about familial love and dissolution. The novel is largely unencumbered by the feminist ideology that weighed down such earlier Atwood novels as ''The Edible Woman'' and ''The Handmaid's Tale,'' and for the most part it is also shorn of those books' satiric social vision. In fact, of all the author's books to date, ''The Blind Assassin'' is most purely a work of entertainment -- an expertly rendered Daphne du Maurieresque tale that showcases Ms. Atwood's narrative powers and her ardent love of the Gothic.
 
In her ingenious new tale of love, rivalry, and deception, The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood interweaves several genres — a confessional memoir, a pulp fantasy novel, newspaper clippings — to tease out the secrets behind the 1945 death of 25-year-old socialite Laura Chase.
 
Nearly 20 years ago, in speaking of her craft, the novelist Margaret Atwood observed that ''a character in a book who is consistently well behaved probably spells disaster for the book.'' She might have asserted the more general principle that consistent anything in a character can prove tedious. If we apply the old Forsterian standard that round characters are ones ''capable of surprising in a convincing way,'' Atwood's new novel, for all its multilayered story-within-a-story-within-a-story construction, must be judged flat as a pancake. In ''The Blind Assassin,'' overlong and badly written, our first impressions of the dramatis personae prove not so much lasting as total.
 

» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margaret Atwoodprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dionne, MargotNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pulice, Mario JCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarkka, HannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Imagine the monarch Agha Mohammad Khan, who orders the entire population of the city of Kerman murdered or blinded—no exceptions. His praetorians set energetically to work. They line up the inhabitants, slice off the heads of the adults, gouge out the eyes of the children. . . . Later, processions of blinded children leave the city. Some, wandering around in the countryside, lose their way in the desert and die of thirst. Other groups reach inhabited settlements...singing songs about the extermination of the citizens of Kerman. . . .

—Ryszard Kapuściński
I swam, the sea was boundless, I saw no shore.
Tanit was merciless, my prayers were answered.
O you who drown in love, remember me.

— Inscription on a Carthaginian Funerary Urn
The word is a flame burning in a dark glass.

—Sheila Watson
Dedication
First words
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.
Quotations
Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up the bright shadow cast by its absence.
What virtue was once attached to this notion—of going beyond your strength, of not sparing yourself, of ruining your health! Nobody is born with that kind of selflessness: it can be acquired only by the most relentless discipline, a crushing-out of natural inclination, and by my time the knack or secret of it must have been lost.
I'm sorry, I'm just not interested.
Or perhaps she's just softening me up: she's a Baptist, she'd like me to find Jesus, or vice versa, before it's too late. That kind of thing doesn't run in her family: her mother Reenie never went in much for God. There was mutual respect, and if you were in trouble, naturally you'd call on him, as with lawyers, but as with lawyers, it would have to be bad trouble. Otherwise it didn't pay to get too mixed up with him.
She knew the family histories, or at least something about them. What she would tell me varied in relation to my age, and also in relation to how distracted she was at the time. Nevertheless, in this way I collected enough fragments of the past to make a reconstruction of it, which must have borne as much relation to the real thing as a mosaic portrait would to the original. I didn't want realism anyway: I wanted things to be highly coloured, simple in outline, without ambiguity, which is what most children want when it comes to the stories of their parents. They want a postcard.
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A science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in a dingy backstreet room. Set in a multi-layered story of the death of a woman's sister and husband in the 1940's, with a novel-within-a novel as a background.

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